Entering Week 11 of the 2023 NFL season, it won’t be long before we start hearing a lot of “eliminated from playoff contention” and “clinched a playoff berth” commentary. There are currently four teams that have seven or more wins; the Eagles, Lions, Chiefs, and Ravens. I think we can all agree that if they don’t self-implode, they will likely make the playoffs. But what about those teams right on the cusp? Are they “Championship Contenders” or “Playoff Pretenders”? Here’s your Downfield Read.
We’re going to break this down by Conference because the AFC seems to have far more teams that are better when compared to the NFC. Eleven of the 16 teams in the AFC are .500 or better, whereas the NFC has only seven teams without losing records. So, where we won’t have to talk about how it’s possible for some 4-5 shlubs like the Jets or Broncos making the playoffs in the AFC, we will have that possibility with the Falcons, Buccaneers, and Commanders in the NFC.
As mentioned earlier, the Chiefs and the Ravens are pretty much in. They could both play .500 football the rest of the way out and end up with ten or eleven wins, which will escort them into the playoffs. There are currently four teams in the AFC with six wins and five more teams with five wins. So, you have eleven teams that are fighting for five remaining spots.
The Buffalo Bills (5-5). Yes, the Bills will NOT make the playoffs this year. At this point in the season, they should be 7-3 instead of 5-5. The easiest part of their schedule is behind them, and they blew two too many games. Their remaining schedule includes at Philadelphia, at Kansas City, Dallas at home, and at Miami. Not to mention, they can’t even beat Denver. They’ve had the seventh easiest schedule this year, and these are not the Bills from the last few years. It would take nothing short of a miracle for them to make the postseason. I project an 8-9 finish.
The Las Vegas Raiders (5-5). It’s a fun story, right? The Raiders stink so they fire their Head Coach, Josh McDaniels, and General Manager, Dave Ziegler. They bench their starting QB, Jimmy G, and Mark Davis FINALLY gets a haircut! I like Antonio Pierce too; he was always a great Free Agent in Madden 2012 that I could pick up, and he’d contribute. However, even though they have won their last two games since the changes were made, they have still had the fourth easiest schedule in the NFL, and if they were a serious team, they would have a better record. Their next five games are at Miami, KC, Minnesota, the Chargers and KC again. With seven games left, their absolute best is four wins (and even that’s a stretch), putting them at 9-8, and out of the playoffs due to tiebreakers.
The Cincinnati Bengals (5-4). For real. Neither the Bills nor the Bengals make the playoffs this year. Much like the Bills, the Bengals should have seven wins by now as well. This Thursday night they go into Baltimore and face a team that just lost a game that they were winning for 59 minutes and 20 seconds. The Ravens are the LAST team that I would want to face at this point because you get this vibe that they are ready to just slobber-knock someone in the mouth. That’s the Bengals. This is a MUST WIN for Cinci, and they won’t pull it off, coming from a devastating loss at home against…the Houston Texans. After the Ravens, the Bengals have Pittsburgh twice (which they’ll split), at Jacksonville, and at KC. I predict that Cinci fishes 9-8 as well, and also is out due to tiebreakers.
The Houston Texans (5-4). If the playoffs started today, the Texans would have the #7 seed…due to tiebreakers. Their remaining schedule is easy enough for them to get into the playoffs if they play .500 football; five of their remaining games are against teams with losing records. Houston is 3-1 in their last four games, and they are heating up. Welcome CJ Stroud and DeMeco Ryans into the MVP and Coach of the Year conversations respectively. Houston has taken a HUGE step from last year and proves me right that Stroud should have gone #1 in the draft. I predict a 9-8 record and WINNER of the tiebreakers.
The Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3). Statistically, this team is not good. Offensively and defensively, they are in the bottom five for yards per game, and yards given up per game. Kenny Pickett is a terrible quarterback, and in the bottom six for starting QBs in both Passer Rating and QBR. So what do they do well? Takeaways. They lead the league in takeaways (+10). They keep hanging around and hanging around until the last few minutes of the game, and then they somehow win. I would LOVE to count them out even with their difficult remaining schedule, but they’ve already had the 11th hardest schedule this year, and they somehow keep winning. I believe they will finish 10-7, which is only 4-4 in their final eight games. IF Cincinnati sweeps them, then the Bengals could make it to the playoffs instead…but this is the hardest division in the NFL for a reason.
The Cleveland Browns (6-3). This prediction has the most likelihood of not happening considering the Browns announcing this morning that Deshaun Watson is OUT for the year. However, the Browns haven’t been winning because of their offense; it’s because they have the #1 Defense in the NFL. Is PJ Walker the answer? Hell no. How about Dorian Thompson-Robinson? Also, no. The Browns have a “winnable” schedule coming up. Pittsburgh at home, at Denver, at the Rams, Chicago at home, the Jets at home… They only need to win four of those games to make it, and they will. I believe the Browns will go 4-4 in the last eight games to make the playoffs at 10-7.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-5). Let’s be realistic, the Bucs have overachieved by already having won four games this season. They play in the worst division in the NFL, but not even that will save them. They are starting to spiral already, losing three of their last four games, and they are at San Francisco this week, at Indy next week, at Green Bay, hosting Jacksonville…and the season is over. It doesn’t matter that they play Carolina twice, because they will probably end up splitting those. Tampa will finish 7-10 and out of the playoffs.
The Atlanta Falcons (4-6). I’ll bet that the Falcons General Manager, Terry Fontenot is kicking himself right now for not going after Lamar Jackson in the offseason.
They are finding out that Desmond Ridder is not the guy, and neither is Taylor Heinicke. Head Coach Arthur Smith is probably not the guy either. This team had a lot of promise in a terrible division, but they are finding ways to lose. Their remaining schedule isn’t even that hard, but they are like the opposite of the Steelers. The Falcons COULD surprise some people and go on a winning streak, but they’ve lost three of their last four and confidence is plummeting. Atlanta finishes 7-10 and out of the playoffs.
The Washington Commanders (4-6). The Commanders have the exact same strength of schedule as the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Eagles are 8-1. That’s the difference between a playoff team and pretender. Washington has also lost three of their last four games, and Ron Rivera is about to get fired and replaced by Eric Bieniemy. The Commanders remaining schedule consists of Dallas twice, Miami, San Fran, at the Rams, and at the Jets. If they win three games to close out the season, I would be shocked. They’ll finish 6-11 and nowhere near the playoffs.
The Minnesota Vikings (6-4). The Vikings are holding their season together with duct tape, super glue, and bubble gum. They lost Kirk Cousins (who IS a top 10 QB) for the season, they lost Justin Jefferson for at least a quarter of the season, and their running game has been a mess. If they didn’t have a top five or six defense in the NFL, their season would be over. They traded for Josh Dobbs, which I laughed about out loud. I even wrote in my journal that the Vikings told a very funny joke by signing Dobbs. Dobbs has been damn good though. The Vikings’ remaining schedule is easy though with Denver, Chicago, Las Vegas, Green Bay, and Detroit twice. They will get to 9-8, which will be good enough to make the playoffs in the NFC.
The Seattle Seahawks (6-3). Seattle has won three of their last four games. Almost everything about them though is “middle of the road”. Kenneth Walker is the only real playmaker on their average performing offense. Bobby Wagner, Boye Mafe, and Jordyn Brroks are holding it down for their average performing defense. Pete Carroll is smart coach though, and he will find a way to get the Seahawks into the playoffs. The schedule will not be easy with the 49ers twice, at Dallas, and hosting both the Eagles and Steelers. Playing .500 football is all they need to do. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening. Fortunately for the Seahawks, 9-8 will still get them to the playoffs.
The Dallas Cowboys (6-3). Of course, the Cowboys make it. Even though they have had the EASIEST schedule in the NFL so far this season and can’t seem to beat hard teams. They will still make it to the playoffs as a Wild Card. Their remaining schedule gets a little more difficult hosting the Eagles, and then going to both Buffalo and Miami before coming back Dallas to host the Lions. However, they will be able to win four more games at minimum. I’m guessing they finish 11-6, which will be good enough for the #5 seed in the NFC.
Based on the current predictions, this is how the playoffs would shape out, and who I think will move on:
NFC Wild Card Round: Lions over Vikings, 49ers over Seahawks, Cowboys over Saints.
NFC Divisional Round: 49ers over Lions, Eagles over Cowboys.
NFC Conference Championship: 49ers over Eagles
AFC Wild Card Round: Jaguars over Texans, Dolphins over Steelers, Ravens over Browns
AFC Divisional Round: Jaguars over Dolphins, Ravens over Chiefs
AFC Conference Championship: Ravens over Jaguars
Super Bowl: Ravens 31, 49ers 30
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